The Studio is among Sickert’s most accomplished and audacious figure paintings. Its composition - at first sight straightforward - is in fact of striking sophistication. The entire scene is a mirror image containing within itself a second mirror image. Deconstruction reveals that the surface of the painting is a disguised looking glass which the painter is facing; the painter himself, identified by the brazen diagonal of his arm cutting across the canvas, is largely outside the picture; he is standing with his back to the model whom he is painting as he sees her reflected in the large looking glass; she in turn has her back to an arched mirror (the door of a wardrobe or perhaps a cheval glass) and is thus revealed to the painter and to the spectator in two aspects.
The richness and variety of handling here is likewise remarkable. Sickert has marshalled an armoury of brushmarks: linear, hatched strokes, broken dabs of impasto, dry scrapes along the contours; contrasting crusty areas of paint with fat, smooth passages. The compromise between thin and thick paint, summary and laboured definition, broadly swept untidy brushwork and a delicately precise touch, shows masterly control throughout.
The confident maturity of this painting has contributed to its misdating. It seemed self-evident that it must be from the climax of the Camden Town period, hence Browse’s attribution of c.1917. I first revised this date to c.1911-12, while noting the small chance it was painted as early as 1906. Having studied the painting repeatedly in the intervening years, I now judge that 1906 is the correct date. If so, there is a strong probability it is Le grand miroir, which was shown at Bernheim Jeune, Paris in January 1907 and included in the auction arranged by Bernheim in 1909.
The low tonality of The Studio accords with the 1906 date and it is clearly contemporary with The Mantelpiece (coll. Southampton Art Gallery). Both are painted on English-size, 30 by 20 inch canvases. Both represent the same interior, featuring an arched mirror with a jacket hanging from its surround. The main subject, a standing nude and her reflection in a full-length looking-glass, features in other paintings and drawings from 1906. The Studio (like The Mantelpiece) is a London subject; if it is indeed Le grand miroir at Bernheim in 1907, it must have been painted before Sickert’s visit to Paris and as such anticipates the most fruitful period of Sickert’s career.
Dr Wendy Baron
Possibly Bernheim Jeune, Paris
Morton H. Sands
Lt-Col. M. Christopher Sands
with Browse and Darby, London, 1987
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York
Private Collection, USA
Thence by descent
Paris, Bernheim Jeune, Exposition Sickert, 10-19 January 1907, as Le Grand Miroir, possibly
Paris, Bernheim Jeune, Vente de 84 oeuvres de Walter Sickert, 18-19 June 1909, as Le Grand Miroir, possibly
London, Eldar Gallery, Walter Sickert, January-February 1919, cat no.41, illus as The Studio
London, Tate Gallery, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, Arts Council, 18 May-19 June 1960, cat no.126, illus b/w, touring to;
Southampton, City Art Gallery, 2-24 July 1960
Bradford, City Art Gallery, 30 July-20 August 1960
London, Agnews, Sickert, Centenary Exhibition of Pictures from Private Collections, 14 March-14 April 1960, cat no.61, as The Model
Brighton, Royal Pavilion, Sickert, June 1962, cat no.82 as The Model
London, Fine Art Society, Sickert, 21 May-8 June 1973, cat no.68, touring to;
Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, 9-30 June 1973
Hull, Ferens Art Gallery, Sickert, Arts Council, 17 December 1977-28 January 1978, cat no.35, illus, touring to Glasgow and Plymouth
London, Royal Academy, British Art in the Twentieth Century: The Modern Movement, 15 January-5 April 1987, cat no.3, illus colour
London, Browse and Darby, British and French Paintings and Drawings, 1987, cat no.39, illus colour
New York, Hirschl and Adler, British Modernist Art: 1905-1930, 1987, cat no.34, illus colour
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Sickert: Paintings, 20 November 1992-14 February 1993, cat no.56, illus colour, touring to:
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, 25 February-31 May 1993
Richard Shone, Walter Sickert, Phaidon Press, Oxford, 1988, illus b/w pl.36
Lisa Tickner, 'Walter Sickert: the Camden Town Murder and Tabloid Crime,'Modern Life and Modern Subjects’, British Art in the Early Twentieth Century, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2000, illus fig.29
David Peter Corbett, Sickert, Tate Publishing, London, 2001, illus fig.21
Anna Gruetzner Robins, Sickert and the Paris Art World, Tate Gallery, London, 2005, p171, illus fig.47
Wendy Baron, Sickert, Paintings and Drawings, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006, pp58-59, 321-323, cat no.270, illus colour p322
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